Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving from Penang, Malaysia!

I hope this post finds everyone fat and full of turkey, ham and whatever else you like to gorge on at Thanksgiving.

We finally made it to Penang after days of motoring with a few hair raising experiences thrown in to make things interesting (a tug boat almost ran us over in the middle of the night on the one night we decided to keep sailing).  We anchored outside of the Straits Quay Marina because that's where Jake's friends are staying.  This place is swanky.  It's right up there with any waterfront town marina in the states, complete with nice restaurants, a mall and a pretty decent grocery store.  Our expectations were exceeded.  As were Jake's... He picked right back up with his friends Morgan and Wyatt like they had just seen each other yesterday (when in fact, it's been three years).  They've had sleep overs, play dates, gotten some taste of freedom (staying alone!), and he's now spent a day at their school with them.  All in less than a week.  One of the unexpected outcomes of this has been a positive little 6 am wake up call is now delayed to at least 7:30... poor thing is so tired he can't get out of bed!  Awesome.

It was a cloudy day, but this was one of the views from
Penang Hill.  You can't see the actual city behind all that.
We've managed to do a little touring as well.  We bought a 24 hour ticket on a double decker tour bus where you hop and on and off at all the different stops around town.  We rode a crazy train up to the top of Penang Hill, climbed a gazillion steps to the top of a temple (what's with Malaysia and all their stairs?), and stopped at Fort Conwallis for a little history lesson.  The next day we used our last few hours on our ticket to hit the Butterfly farm...very, very cool.

We were lucky enough to be there when they
were releasing some butterflies. 

We were able to enjoy our Thanksgiving here in Malaysia at a nice hotel nearby with a special "Thanksgiving" Buffet.  I'm not entirely sure it resembled turkey day, but there was plenty of food and it was huge hit for our group.  The boys spent most of their time at the chocolate fountain...  I have to say it was a strange experience for me.  Good, but different.  First off, we have never, in my entire life, gone out to eat at a restaurant on Thanksgiving (at least not that I can remember).   I did cook brunch and make Andy a pecan pie but other than that, I got off relatively easy in the cooking department.  Secondly, it was truly an international experience.  Our group alone had fewer Americans than Aussies.  When I looked around the restaurant I saw Chinese, Malaysian, Australian, British, and a few other nationalities I couldn't quite place.

Unfortunately, I'm a bit behind on pictures so the Thanksgiving ones and the boy's pics will have to come later....until then, enjoy!

We're a LONG way from home!

This was about half way up...

Finally made it to the top!

Wouldn't want to meet him in a back alley!

In the middle of all this extravagance...Jake found a place to
rest his tired dogs.

Our budding photog...not too bad...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Malacca Straights

(Apologies for lack of pics...I will post them when we get some internet)

We're on our way through the famous Malacca Straights, known for its piracy and being the busiest shipping channel in the world. No sweat…we got this.

We're day hopping up to a little island called Penang on the west coast of Malaysia. Here, Jake will have a long awaited reunion with some of his friends from Majuro and we'll get to have a proper Thanksgiving with some other Americans. Fortunately, the weather is benign (so far) and even though we're burning diesel, it's not such a bad trip.

The days are a bit monotonous with the droll of the motor, dishes, cooking, dishes, cooking, movies, droll of the motor, etc. But everyone is happy enough. Jake was able to finally do his dinosaur dig, a present he got for his birthday. He made a huge mess, but we now have a baby triceratops skeleton to add to our display.

After Tioman we made our way down to Johor Bahru to get fuel and stock up on some groceries. Jake was lucky enough to meet a little Australian girl on another boat in the marina. They spent two complete days playing - water balloons, slip and slide, playing in the rain. It was a much needed moral booster for Jake.

Probably the most exciting part of our last week was coming around Singapore. At one point we counted over 120 ships and that was without really trying hard. On shore was just as many tall buildings as far as the eye could see. To our port side was Indonesia. So much to look at. Andy and I spent the day with our head on a swivel, trying not to get run over. We look like a little bitty life raft bobbing out here around all of these massive ships.

Singapore, as we were passing by.

Some fish traps to watch out for.

We decided to give way to this guy.

An oyster farm at the entrance of Senibong Marina.
Now we're anchored in front of the Admiral Marina in Port Dickson. We went ashore to drop off some trash and try to meet up with some other boats we know (with no success) and we once again observed a strange phenomenon here in Malaysia. There are many buildings and structures in this country that were once quite grand. The problem is there is no concept of maintenance. Many marinas have been built and then left to ruin only to be rebuilt 5-10 years later, then left to ruin again, and continue the cycle. We see beautiful hotels from the water and then when we pick up the binoculars and look closer, they're really old, forgotten structures in desperate need of a paint job. It seems such a waste of time and money…but a cycle not soon to be broken.

A few more days and we'll arrive in Penang and hopefully break our own little cycle of monotony.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Stop the Shark Finning!

Jake's latest writing assignment was to write a persuasive paper.  He chose a topic he's very passionate about, shark finning.  We saw a good bit of it in Mexico (including the sharks washing up on the beach) and some here in SE Asia as well (more the selling of the soup than actually seeing the finning occur).  He said he had to get the word out and asked me to publish this for him.  Feel free to share...

Shark Finning
By:  Jake (9 years old)

I hate shark finning. An estimated 70 million sharks are killed each year and over a third are killed just for their fins.  People use their fins for soup.
First, if we keep killing the sharks they will all be gone. Killing the sharks stops the immune system of the ocean. Sick fish will not be eaten and they will pollute the ocean.
Second, it is cruel to the sharks.  Fishermen just cut off their fins and throw them back in the water and leave them to drown.  Stop killing the sharks!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sailing SE Asia

Sailing SE Asia is a myth.  Motoring SE Asia is more like it.  It doesn’t matter what the weather says or what direction we’re going, we can’t seem to fill these sails.  If the forecast says the winds are coming from the south and we change our course accordingly, they come from the north.  If we anchor with protection from the north, they turn and come from the south.  If we unzip the sail bag and shake out the main, they die all together.  We have traveled about 2500 miles since we left Palau, give or take a few hundred, and I would venture to say we’ve motored or motor/sailed 85% of the time.  Maybe it’s the time of year we’re here, maybe it’s that we’re so close to the equator and we have the ITCZ to deal with.  I’m sure it’s those things as well as a few others that contribute to it.  But knowing the reasons don’t make it any more fun.  It’s hot.  There’s no wind.  It’s hot and not windy.  Ugh.

The lemonade to be made here is with the price of fuel.  With all of the oil production around here, the cost of fuel is crazy low so the pain of burning so much diesel is eased slightly. 

The patterns lately seem to be no wind in the day and crazy wind at night.  Of course we’re trying to day hop to avoid the heavy traffic at night and the fisherman, so we’ve already screwed the pooch with the sailing thing.  Our ability to guess the wind direction at night hasn’t been too good either…we’re hoping we do better tonight and we actually get to sleep.  We’ve got a spot picked out with protection from the North, East and West.  Let’s hope we got it right this time.

Editor’s note….sitting at anchor right now with a south wind coming in… just a little break…that’s all we’re asking for.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Happy Halloween from Tioman Island!

I’ve been very neglectful in updating the blog lately.  I don’t know if I have been too busy or just not very motivated.  Either way, there’s a good bit to tell. 

We finally left Kuching.  We took a day or two to leave the river and get our sea legs back and then we made the 4 day trek across the South China Sea to Tioman Island.  For the first time ever, I was the only one on the boat not sick.  Andy caught some sort of bug just as we left Kuching that put him down for a day or two and Jake got dehydrated and just a bit seasick.  I had on my trusty patch and ended up actually reading a few books on the passage…something normally unheard of.  I didn’t come out completely unscathed though.  A nasty side effect of this patch is blurred vision.  A small price to pay for keeping my food down, in my opinion.

This little guy did most of the crossing with us.  Unfortunately, I
found him belly up in the cabin on one of my night watches (I swear
I did not step on him!)

These are the kinds of things you have to watch out for around here.
This actually marks a fish trap.

Tioman Island is a small island on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia that was touted as “one of the most beautiful islands in the world” in some publication years ago, a phrase they use on all of their advertisements.  I don’t know if I would go that far, but it sure was a welcome change from the crocodile infested rivers we’ve called home for the last few months. 

It’s a pretty common stopover for cruisers heading across the sea both ways as its one of the three duty free islands in Malaysia.  Duty Free = cheap beer/wine/booze.  It’s also got pretty good snorkeling, decent beaches (although they appear to be filled with sandflies), and a genuine laid back atmosphere.  It’s not yet overrun with tourists, but has enough to bring in a few good restaurants and give locals a reason to tolerate some of our western ways.  But not all… you see it’s mostly muslim and while they do capitalize on the tourism, there are some things they just can’t give way to.  For example, Andy and I saw the most unique sign (for our western ways) at the local shopping center.  You know those signs with pictures and then the circle and slash through it to say ‘no this’ or ‘no that?’  We saw one with four pictures on it…

If you went to a beach in Florida and saw those signs, I’m pretty sure most people would go home!  We got a kick out of it as it’s another reminder of how our cultures are so different.  I told Andy, I’m too old to prance around town in a bikini anymore, I can’t afford the calories of the ice cream, and well, we prefer to drink our alcohol and smooch in the privacy of our own home.  So we’re good….no issues here.

There was one major difference in our ways that we thought might cause more of a stir for some of the crew.  There is no Halloween here.  Jake’s grandparents sent him the greatest costume and he has almost worn it out getting ready for Halloween.  He loves to dress up…it’s actually a daily thing.  It doesn’t matter what…dinosaur, dragon king (his own creation), pirate, Obi wan Kanobe.  His costume this year…vampire bat (and very appropriate I might add – there are THOUSANDS of fruit bats just outside the marina here).  Surprisingly though, the idea of no trick or treating didn’t cause that big of a disappointment.  Jake decided that we would make a haunted house on the boat.  And at the end, I would hide his candy and he would find it.  He even “visioned” us sitting in a circle around the pumpkin telling ghost stories.  Simple enough.  So we spent all week making decorations, carving pumpkins and planning how to scare “the poop” out of each other.  At the end of the night, he declared it one of his “top 3” Halloweens.  I’m not sure he remembers them before age 6, but we’ll let that slide. 

Our little vampire bat!

He wouldn't smile because he was trying to look scary.

Andy and I were talking about how lucky we were to have a kid that can adapt so easily to whatever is thrown at him.  I don’t know how much of it is lifestyle and how much of it is just personality, but I do think living on a boat and making do with what you have contributes greatly.  Our next challenge will be Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I asked Jake what he wanted for Christmas.  He said instead of writing Santa a letter this year, he was just going to let him decid what he should bring Jake.  With no commercials, advertisements or catalogs to look at, I do believe my 9 year old has run out of things to ask for! 

We’ll spend a few more days here and then we’re off towards the mainland.  Lots to do…visit Singapore, meet up with old cruising friends in Penang, high tail it to Thailand to haul out (along with a thousand other boats)…I’m tired already thinking about it.